Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Autumnal Chopped Salad w/ Sugar Cane Vinegar

Even out here in usually-sunny Southern California, we're feeling the first snap of autumn. There is a "winter" storm coming and, while we rarely had those in South Louisiana, the chill in the air reminds me of sugarcane harvests.

Near the end of September and the start of October, farmers get ready to harvest the sugarcane. This is also known as "la roulaison" (harvest), where the fields of cane are first burned, producing a sweet, smoky scent in the air and a glowing hue in the distance as the sun sets. Just thinking of it brings a tear to my eye.

Sugarcane is deeply rooted in my childhood memories. It's part of the fiber of my being. While no one in my family ever farmed sugarcane, I have memories of stories from my grandfather, who worked in the local sugar mill. He even had a run-in with a steam valve to prove it.

Summers were filled with the joys of running around outdoors until the tractors in the nearby cane fields were refueled with anhydrous ammonia. Whew! That smell permeated the air and sent me running back inside even on the sunniest, most promising summer's day.

But, the best thing, by far was autumn and picking up the stray pieces of sugarcane that floated from trucks as they sped down the highway from the fields near our home and towards the sugar mill. My sister and I would chew excitedly on the smoky-sweet stalks of cane. Talk about a sugar rush.

Here is a recipe for my favorite early fall salad. It is quite simple and that is the sheer beauty of it. Use any apples you can, and be sure to use some Steen's Cane Vinegar for its lovely sweetness and smokiness. If you can't get your hands on this vinegar, mix some Steen's Cane Syrup with some apple cider vinegar to taste.

This recipe has no measurements. It's all about taste.

Autumnal Chopped Salad with Sugar Cane Vinegar
apples of your choice
English cucumber
leaf lettuce
rocket (arugula)
Steen's Cane Vinegar or Steen's Cane Syrup AND apple cider vinegar
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
cayenne pepper
olive or flaxseed oil

1) Chop all ingredients into bite-sized pieces.
2) In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar (and cane syrup, if needed), oil, salt, and peppers to taste. (I prefer much more vinegar than oil.) There should be just enough of this dressing to barely coat the salad. (Please don't drown this or any other salad!)
3) Throw salad ingredients into bowl. Toss and serve.

Close your eyes and think of burning sugar cane. Enjoy!

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